The NRC’s unique photonics foundry boosts capabilities for chip manufacturers

- Ottawa, Ontario

Imagine your computer and smartphone as super-fast thinkers. The tiny parts inside them, called semiconductor chips, make this possible. There are 2 main types of these chips: silicon chips and compound semiconductor chips. Silicon chips are the traditional kind, using electricity to process information. Compound semiconductor chips, like photonic chips, use light to do the same job. Today, photonic chip manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to create better, more efficient and greener semiconductor components. As technology advances, the need for photonic-based systems grows in markets like AI, high-performance computing, data centres, fibre optic networks and advanced sensors used in aerospace, automotive and security. These systems are crucial for meeting the increasing demand for faster networks, better data handling and improved sensing and security.

Help is at hand: the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre at the National Research Council of Canada plays a crucial role in helping these manufacturers keep up with the growing demand for faster, more efficient and environmentally friendly photonics components.

Established over 20 years ago, this photonics foundry has become a global leader in producing photonics components. Located in Ottawa, Ontario, the facility is the only one of its kind in North America, offering end-to-end services for indium phosphide (InP) semiconductor manufacturing, including custom design growth and full-wafer processing.

Over the years, the fabrication centre has helped more than 50 clients in Canada and worldwide conduct R&D on new products. The centre has commercialized millions of lasers, modulators, sensors, amplifiers and photonic integrated circuits. These components are essential in technological advances that power technology such as our phones, autonomous and electric vehicles, radio detection, and 5G and 6G networks.

A key player in the photonics industry

Today, the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre is a 40,000-square-foot facility with 11,000 square feet of class 100 and 1,000 cleanroom space. The fabrication centre provides a wide range of key processes and supporting services. The centre recently broke ground on a major construction project to modernize its facility, which will result in increased capacity for research, innovation and commercialization. The expansion will also lead to improvements to critical processes for next-generation optical components, help meet growing demand and see outdated equipment replaced to better support the photonics supply chain.

The fabrication centre’s expertise and resources are available to a wide range of clients, including small and medium-sized businesses, multinational corporations and research institutes. This approach fosters innovation in sectors such as environmental sensing, aerospace, telecommunications and automotive. By providing clients with access to proven processes and expert support, the centre helps them accelerate their time to market and minimize innovation risks.

Furthermore, the fabrication centre works closely with academia to train highly skilled professionals in the field of photonics. Its business-oriented approach ensures that cutting-edge technology is not only developed but also commercially viable.

“Through innovation, collaboration and dedication to advancing photonics technology, the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre is not only shaping the future of chip manufacturing but also driving global innovation and economic growth,” says Velko Tzolov, Director General of the centre.

As the demand for microchips continues to grow, the fabrication centre plays a vital role in optimizing chip production processes and advancing photonic integrated circuits for mass-market applications. Its contributions to modern processes and value chains are significant, enhancing Canada’s economic competitiveness and paving the way for a brighter future powered by photonics technology.

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